This weekend’s box office referendum: Why “Pacific Rim” will surprise

If you’ve been paying attention to the movie-related headlines this week, the web is abuzz with anticipation over Pacific Rim. The talk, however, is not just about the film (which has earned solid reviews from critics so far), but its impending performance at the Box Office.

Leading the charge has been Variety, whose multiple proclamations of financial doom have the movie’s advocates worrying.Variety, of course, sites traditional tracking methods, which have had a rough year, and failed to predict the successes of films like The Great Gatsby and World War Z.

TheWrap.com said Pacific Rim might be on its way to joining The Lone Ranger and White House Down in a string of major Hollywood flops this summer.

On the other side of the coin, Forbes.com has jumped into the fray, arguing that traditional tracking is flawed and that Pacific Rim should exceed expectations.

But one of the most compelling arguments I’ve seen, with the least conjecture and most data, comes from The Motley Fool’s Tim Beyers. Beyers points to Google Trends data to argue that Pacific Rim won’t just avoid being a flop, but that it will end up being quite successful.

Google has made waves in the box-office prognostication game with their assertion that they can predict the weekend winners with 94% accuracy. While they didn’t disclose their data or exact findings, Beyers points out Google Trends has been an excellent predictor of box office success this year. In his article, he uses Google Trends data to point out why he predicted Despicable Me 2 would be a blockbuster and The Lone Ranger would bust. He also uses said data to dismiss Variety’s comparison of Pacific Rim to last year’s mega-flop Battleship.

In the spirit of Beyer’s excellent use of this data, I figured I’d take a look at some of this year’s box office battles, and try to get a gauge on how Pacific Rim will fare this weekend.

For starters, I figured it’d be worth looking at data for specific competing films, looking at the days preceeding their opening weekends, so we can see how flops fared compared to surprise successes.

A couple of notes:

First, Google Trends works by giving the peak search day for any item a value of 100 and giving every other day a number representing its percentage compared to that. If there are multiple terms, then the single highest day for one of them is 100. It’s a nice, quick, easy way to compare search data.

Second, WordPress.com won’t let me embed Google Trends, so I have links for you instead.

For starters, here’s notable flop White House Down compared to that weekend’s surprise smash hit, The Heat.

Four days before their release date of June 28, The Heat was logging 3.7 times as much Google traffic as White House Down. On June 27th, it was still trending upwards. Interesting, right? Well, it’s just one example.

How about the surprise success of World War Z, which came out the week before?

Well, let’s have a look.

As you can see, the graph shift because World War Z’s searched skyrocketed during its opening weekend. But we can still compare the pre-release numbers. Three days before its release, World War Z was logging a 27 (again, compared to its peak of 100 on the Saturday of its opening weekend, when movies tend to peak). On this new graph, three days before their release The Heat was logging a 12, and White House Down  a 5. Compared to these actual hits, White House Down was barely registering a peep on Google. And remember, these numbers are from before these films’ releases; it was after the weekends were over that World War Z and The Heat were declared surprise smashes.

How does this translate into actual box office predictions?

World War Z surprised pundits with a hefty $66 million haul. The Heat opened strong at $39 million. White House Down flopped with a $24 million opening weekend. As a quick and dirty measure, Google Trends is looking pretty good so far.

Now, here’s what happens when I plug Pacific Rim into this chart.

The most recent data for all trends is from July 9, three days before Pacific Rim’s July 12 release date. As of July 9, Pacific Rim was at 24 (once more with feeling, with World War Z’s weekend peak being 100). In other words, it’s very close to where World War Z was at this point before its release, well ahead of The Heat and stratospherically higher than White House Down.

So what about that string of flops?

Well, here’s how Pacific Rim compares to White House Down and The Lone Ranger, whose $24 million and $29 million openings are in the ballpark of Variety’s projections.

Now, the new 100 here is… well, look at that. The unreleased Pacific Rim surpassed the maximum Google traffic for the other two films three days before its release, even considering the dramatic surge of Google traffic for movies on their opening weekends. Looking at the “three days before release” numbers, it’s not even close. If Google Trends is any indication, there’s simply no reason to expect that Pacific Rim will open with numbers close to White House Down or The Lone Ranger.

The point of this exercise is simple: What we have this weekend is a conflict of methods, each predicting results at total odds with each other. Traditional tracking has Pacific Rim poised to be a flop. Google Trends’ data, which has shown to be surprisingly accurate as a predictor of box office success, is projecting a big first weekend for Pacific Rim. If the movie flops, then it’ll be a victory for traditional tracking, a sign that they still have their finger on the pulse of moviegoers at least to an extent.

But if Pacific Rim succeeds, it’s the single biggest blow of the year to old-fashioned tracking. More than that, if Google Trends is correct, it means that all anyone needs to be a successful box-office guru is an internet connection.

(featured image source)

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About johnmichaelmaximilian

Freelance writer from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Movies are my favorite thing.

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